Destination Prince Edward Island: Part One

You might think the timing of this trip is directly related to my recent foray into all things Lucy Maud Montgomery…but you’d be mostly wrong.

Really, this reflects the sad truth that we live only three hours from a beautiful province and haven’t visited for A DECADE.


We have good excuses; we spend summer vacation time at my parent’s lakeside home in New Brunswick, which is delightful.

Also, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is a province utterly transformed in the summer; there are people everywhere. It’s hard – and expensive – to find accommodations. We also aren’t the type of family who enjoys spending half an hour searching for parking spaces at a crowded beach or amusement park. (I mean, does anyone enjoy that? I guess it would be more accurate to say we are the type of family that actively avoids crowded beaches and amusement parks.)

And, perhaps most importantly, we love exploring our home province of Nova Scotia (check out my Travel page for some highlights), which is stunning in the summer.

So, at the last minute, we decided to trek to PEI. The kids had a random Friday off school and we’re trying to be intentional about making the most of family adventuring while John is on sabbatical. And there is NO shortage of accommodations in the off-season (as busy as PEI gets in the summer, it is “dead” in the winter/spring).

And, yes, I’ll admit that reading the Anne books gave me a final nudge.

We only stayed on the island for one night. I’ll recap our adventures from Day One today and come back tomorrow with Day Two.

Day One

1. the drive

We hoped to be on the road by 7 am, but the kids were awake early enough that we were driving by 6:45 am. It’s always a great (and rare) feeling to be ahead of schedule.

I tasked Abby with making some PB&J sandwiches for the car, and the kids ate these for breakfast en route.

Side note regarding food for the trip. Between frugality and finding food stops to be very time-consuming, we prefer to travel with items from home. We packed some ham and cheese sandwiches for the day (and brought jars of PB&J + mini brioche buns to make more sandwiches if needed), hard-boiled eggs, apples, oat muffins, carrot sticks, and a big jug of water, so we didn’t stop to eat until supper time; on Day 2 we had breakfast included at the hotel and then just ate remaining picnic items the rest of the day).

The kids were absolute rockstars on this trip. They’re used to spending time in the car and seem to understand the delayed gratification necessary to enjoy adventures. I also think we’ve reached the ideal stage for this sort of thing: they’re old enough to be out of diapers and naps but young enough to get excited with simple activities.

The first hour of the drive we spent talking about…I can’t remember what?! Then the kids mostly just listened to audiobooks.

2. The BRIDGE

Levi, sadly, had fallen asleep in a very rare car nap and missed our bridge crossing. There isn’t much to see because the sides of the bridge are so high, but it is still an impressive and fun part of the trip.

The Confederation Bridge links PEI to the mainland of New Brunswick and is the world’s longest bridge that crosses ice-covered waters. At 12.9 km, it is a long bridge by any standard!

3. Cape egmont

Our first stop was Cape Egmont. The dirt road leading down to this lighthouse was treacherous (muddy and deeply rutted), but we made it in – and out – in one piece.

One of our family “things” is visiting lighthouses. We’ve gone to at least 60 now, and it’s a fun unifying theme for our vacations as we actively seek out new lighthouses wherever we go.

Of the 7 (!!) lighthouses discovered on this trip, we agreed this was the prettiest (it would be even nicer in the summer with green grass standing out in sharp relief to the red cliffs).

4. WEST POINT LIGHTHOUSE

West Point is the “poster” child of lighthouses for the island. It actually has a (run-down) motel associated with the lighthouse, so you can book accommodations that attach to the lighthouse. It was pretty and tall, but we didn’t stick around too long and the beachfront was nothing spectacular.

5. CEDAR DUNES

When we left West Point Lighthouse, we drove by Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. The kids spotted playground equipment and we made an impromptu stop. I did a 1 km walk while they played, and then we grabbed lunch from our picnic bag before heading off to the northern tip of the island.

6. North Cape LIGHTHOUSE

While PEI is very small, it still felt like North Cape was a long trek into the middle of nowhere. It is the northernmost tip of the island and I was shocked by how windy it was; when we discovered the Wind Energy Institue of Canada is located on the premises, it made a lot of sense. (There were wind farms everywhere and they have giant turbine pieces on display for the public.)

North Cape is also home to the longest natural rock reef in North America (who knew?), extending almost two kilometers offshore from the cliffs. On a warmer day we might have explored the beach and looked for all the promised sea life, but the kids and I quickly admitted we were freezing and headed back to the car…where I realized my keys were in the trunk (not a good place for keys when a car is locked) and John was nowhere to be found.

I was feeling bummed. It was cold and windy. The lighthouse was rather industrial and run-down. And it had been a long drive. I called John to ask him to come to unlock the car and he said he’d be right back…but we might want to consider coming to see the rock formation he had discovered on the beach.

I convinced the kids to give this chilly cape one last shot and it ended up being one of those moments when waiting just a bit longer paid dividends. The rock formation ended up being one of my highlights from the trip!

This looks like a relatively boring access point to the beach and then BAM!

These pictures don’t do this space justice. The kids had a great time playing in the smaller caves and cutouts and there was a small cove/tiny beach on the other side of the formation that was protected from the wind. It was a hidden oasis I suspect few people visiting the area discover!

7. thunder cove

We love spelling things in the sand. Fun fact: sand writing factored into John’s marriage proposal!

Thunder Cove has one of the best spots for viewing the iconic red sandstone cliffs of PEI. We were warned in advance, though, to CHECK THE TIDES.

So…we CHECKED THE TIDES and opted to visit 4 hours after high tide. We walked down the beach to reach the most famous landmark – the Teacup formation. Unfortunately, we hit a roadblock in the form of some very cold water and an incomplete tide. The water was still too high to get around the bend to view the teacup formation. Whomp, whomp. So, a friendly word of advice: CHECK THE TIDES and then visit at the lowest tide possible!

We ended up finding an alternate route that left us quite muddy (note to self: allowing Abby to wear light blue jeans was a mistake), but the mess was worth it! Such a pretty formation.

8. New london lighthouse

The New London Lighthouse was probably my favourite lighthouse, largely due to nostalgia.

When I looked up filming locations from the Anne of Green Gables films, most spots were actually in Ontario (which is a bit of a letdown for movies featuring PEI). But one lighthouse scene was filmed on the island and happened to be smack dab in the middle of our return route to Charlottetown, so we made a quick stop.

Again, this would be nicer in the summer with tall green grass, but we tried to take a picture that highlighted the pop-culture significance of the location and I would definitely consider coming back here for a longer visit on a warmer day as it was a lovely spot (complete with a staircase that led to nowhere, which the kids thought was hilarious).

9. lucy maud Montgomery’s birthplace

Our final stop for the day was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace, which we happened upon by accident. John saw a sign out of the corner of his eye, and we made a hasty turn into the empty (everything. is. empty. in. the. offseason!) parking lot so I could take a look around.

And here, around a certain corner, is a certain small, yellowish-brown house, close to the road, that I always look at with a kind of fascination, for it is the house where my father and mother lived after their marriage, and where I was born and spent the first year of my life. The years have passed on and each succeeding one has left the little brown house something shabbier than before, but its enchantment has never faded in my eyes. I always look for it with the same eager interest when I turn the corner.

L. M. Montgomery’s Journal, December 31, 1898

It’s no longer brown but reading her quote on the placard gave me goosebumps!

10. Charlottetown

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used Gretchen Rubin’s line about: The things that go wrong often make the best memories and I got another chance during this trip.

We were tired after a long day and when we confidently pulled up to the front entrance of our hotel, you could practically hear angels singing. Come to find out we were trying to check in to the WRONG hotel. There were two hotels with the same name in Charlottetown, which I didn’t realize when I keyed our destination into the GPS. It ended up costing us about 20 minutes and I was very grumpy about my mistake.

But, sometimes the things that go wrong do make good memories and the kids seem to think it’s both thrilling and hilarious that I made this mistake and it has become part of our family story about the trip.

Once we got settled at the right hotel, we headed to the pool – the waterslide was 105 ft long and very fast and very fun.

We found a local restaurant and ate a quick supper and were back to the hotel around 8:00 pm for some snacks in bed (which we brought from home) and a few more episodes of Race Against the Tide.

Just for kicks, I thought I’d show you my screentime report from this Friday! Between taking photos, Googling everything, and using the GPS (how did people travel before GPS and Google?)…well, there were a lot of screens.

And that’s a wrap on Day One. I know there many loyal Anne of Green Gables fans out there, but I feel like PEI is an obscure travel destination – has anyone reading here ever visited PEI?

23 thoughts on “Destination Prince Edward Island: Part One”

  1. THIS LOOKS AMAZING!!! I would also much rather be there in the off-season. Having to battle crowds ruins experiences like that. You’re right, your kids are at that “golden age”- well out of toddlerhood (phew) but young enough to find these things exciting- and to find it hilarious that you went to the wrong hotel. I can’t wait for Day 2!

    1. Yes. The off-season has some major advantages! I don’t think many people think to travel (even locally) to beach/tourist destinations in the off-season, but there is a whole other set of adventures to be had at this point in the year.
      “Golden age” indeed! I love that phrase and it does capture where we’re at with parenting…at least in terms of travel!

  2. Looks wonderful! All of your eastern Canada adventures remind me so much of our Maine trip last summer. 🙂 So fun!!! I also love the deserted beach scenes/low season tourism wise. You got some beautiful pictures! Love that one of Abby with the hat and her long blonde hair streaming out.

    1. We’re hoping to spend a bit of time in Maine this summer and I suspect it will feel slightly like deja vu. I love the Maritime provinces; they really are beautiful. So much coastline and, for most of the year, lots of solitude as well.

  3. So beautiful! I should have guessed PEI last week but I didn’t realize that it was that close to you! What a delightful place to visit. I would much rather visit during off-season v fighting the crowds, too.

    I have not been to eastern Canada so have never been there but I am pretty sure my grandparents visited PEI. They did a ton of traveling and I can sort of remember my grandma talking about PEI.

    1. PEI is a great destination! And I definitely preferred the off-season, though I think we will try to get over for a spontaneous trip at least once this summer (avoiding Cavendish). A beach voted The Nicest Beach in Canada is on the eastern side of the island and there are a lot of other beautiful beaches in the vicinity that tend not to attract as many crowds.

      Also, in the summer, there is a boat that connects Nova Scotia with PEI, so we’d love to do that with the kids (and it’s cheaper to cross via the ferry than the bridge)!

  4. If only I lived closer! All those lighthouses are so captivating…are you allowed inside any of them? The stair-climber in me would want to climb the stairs inside of them (which begs the question, is it a naive assumption that there actually are spiral staircases inside?). Our kids were good travelers, for the most part. We made the drive back and forth from Michigan to Iowa (about nine hours of car time) numerous times until we moved back to Iowa (almost 20 years ago). That was back before there were smartphones and video screens in vehicles, so they knew how to be self-sufficient with books or simple toys or word games. Ah, simpler times, indeed!

    1. We haven’t been inside many lighthouses (3-4 total out of the 60); most of them are controlled remotely now. There is a very tall lighthouse here in Nova Scotia that is open for walking to the top, but we haven’t actually done that. So most of our interest is on the exterior, but it would be a great workout!
      There are definitely spiral staircases in some lighthouses.
      Simpler times, indeed. I like having access to the tech when needed (i.e. the kids are going crazy), but they do very well with entertaining themselves with talking/games…and they spend a good chunk of time eating as well. They seem to ALWAYS be hungry in the car, but I realize some of that is boredom. But we do a lot of snacking en route.

  5. Gorgeous photos! PEI has long been on my list of places I want to visit. One day! One day I will. I love those rock formations – just beautiful! Sounds absolutely fantastic, Elisabeth.

    1. You seem like someone that would love PEI.
      So much “scope for the imagination” and a lot of natural beauty! I hope you make it to the island, one day!

  6. What absolutely beautiful photos! Going in the off-season is such a good idea. I always worry that things won’t be open or I won’t be able to enjoy things as much in the off-season, but this is a good reminder to me that sometimes the best things are always there.
    I’m not a fan of bridges (I was in Minneapolis when the I-35W bridge collapsed and have some leftover feelings), but I can only imagine what a gorgeous view it was!

    1. Almost nothing is open this time of year on PEI, but that provided a lot of different opportunities. That said, I suspect we’ll do a quick trip at some point in the summer (to some lesser-populated beaches), because the kids had a great time and it really is very accessible from NS.
      For a good chunk of the bridge crossing you can’t see anything but bridge (the sides are very high), but the kids thought it was all quite thrilling and the perspective once you’re off the bridge is very impressive.

  7. It looks beautiful albeit COLD! Is there a pre-tourist time that is a bit gentler to the cold souls? Like June or September? In some years I could travel in June and when we went to Niagara Falls I took the kids out a couple of days early (they go right to the end of June). But it was still packed. I think some places are done school earlier than we are and I didn’t factor that in.
    I love the photos of the light houses! That is not a typical sight for me. I could take many pictures of flat land and grain elevators!

    1. Both June and September would still be in the main off-season (accommodations would be cheaper/more readily available), but most things would be open and the weather would likely be nicer! I suspect it would be a near-perfect time to visit.
      Schools on the East Coast only release at the end of June here in Canada, but I know in the US schools tend to get out in May or early June.
      We have so many lighthouses in Nova Scotia/PEI because of the incredible quantity of coastline.

  8. As soon as I convince Dorothy to read the books or just start reading them aloud to Minnie in a few years, I am bringing the whole fam. Such beautiful pictures!

    1. It is such a beautiful spot; a different vibe in the off-season when things are closed/quiet and everything is relatively dull but beautiful at any time of year, for sure!
      And having just finished the Anne books did make the experience all the richer, for me.
      Years and years ago I went to the Anne musical on PEI with my father and I would love to do that with my own kiddos sometime soon. That is a big draw for tourists in the summer!

  9. It looks so beautiful Elizabeth, somewhere I would love to visit. I have loved reading the Anne books to my daughter. Living in a country with a lot of coastline we too have many lighthouses here but ours are all round so it is interesting to see square ones. They are round here as it the square ones got demolished by the tides and wind so they went for a round design. That bridge is amazing 12 km is a very long bridge! Love the rock formations, guessing that is sandstone of some sort, it looks very similar to a sandstone found round here many of the buildings are that colour. It reminds me of a visit I made to Utah when my eldest was a baby.

    1. We have a big mix of shapes and sizes of lighthouse here; most are round, but there are some odd shapes even within “round”!
      It is sandstone!

  10. What a lovely little place! It’s funny – as much as I love the Anne books, I’ve never thought about visiting PEI. A 9-hour drive, though, sounds miserable to me, haha. I am so not someone who likes long drives! I’m glad the kids handled it well, though!

    I can’t wait to read your recap of the second day!

    1. It is lovely! Most people don’t drive that much in one day on PEI. You could easily spend a whole day (or 2) just in Cavendish or Charlottetown and I suspect you’d love it!! Even in the off season with no one around it really did feel like the spirit of Anne lived in the spaces around Cavendish.

  11. You know that I was planning a trip there a few years ago, when my whole life turned upside down (took a new job) and that meant.. dropping the trip. I was so sad. So, so sad. I think you know how much I cherish the Anne books. It is still on my list – and high enough that the ONE printed travel book I have not donated is the one for PEI. I cannot wait to get to the maritimes – not this year, unfortunately, but my goal is to get there next year (might not happen with a planned conference in Dublin, also a bucket list item) or the following year (so… yikes, 2024?).
    I also love lighthouses and deserted beaches, and suspect that if I were to come when our contract ends (3rd week in May) I may be just on the end of the low/no-tourist season. I hope so, at least!
    Your family adventures sound like so much fun – yes to packing food (always) and driving (as much as I can) and stopping when the mood hits (or one sees LMM’s birthplace). I’m glad you were able to get away! <3

    1. I didn’t know. How sad. I’m sorry, Anne – but happy to hear you’re still planning to make this trip happen. Dublin also sounds fabulous!
      The end of May would be a lovely time to visit the island. Warmer weather, but still well before any tourist influx.

  12. Wow, Elisabeth, these photos are amazing! What a wonderful trip – and from the map that you posted, I finally know where Wolfsville is and feel like I flew over your house on the way back from Europe last Thursday LOL (I always trace the flight route and am excited when we reach the Northeastern point of Canada, as I am not fond flying “over the ocean”).

    What a wonderful trip!

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